Since September 15, My Son is available in the USA on VOD, a new version of his previous film « Mon Garçon » (2016) with Guillaume Canet. This time, he transposes his story to Scotland (United Kingdom) and has surrounded himself with two prestigious actors : James McAvoy (X-Men, Split) and Claire Foy (The Crown).
On the occasion of a preview in La Rochelle (the movie will be released on November 3 in France), organized by the radio program Chut on écoute la télé and the Méga CGR Les Minimes, director Christian Carion talked to me about the original concept of his film, his desire to make a « remake » and the notable differences between the French and the English versions.
Where did the idea of making a semi-improvised feature film come from in the first place ?
At the time, Guillaume Canet was not very available. We couldn’t make a classic film. I already had the idea of directing a classic film in its first part and a second half where there would be no script, which corresponds to his ascent in the mountain. As he was not available, the desire to shoot without giving a scenario became a necessity. With the teams, we thought about how it could be possible. We tried it and the rules were : shoot fast, only one take, no dead time, no make-up/hair, no lights… We only stop to eat. By preparing everything in advance, it was possible. You can take a story this way.
James McAvoy replaces Guillaume Canet and Claire Foy, Mélanie Laurent. What motivated these choices ?
I already wanted to work with James McAvoy. He is a great actor. He is a fascinating person, always surprising. Never where you expect him to be. I thought that this kind of concept could excite him and I was not wrong. When I told him on the phone how I was going to make the film, he told me I was crazy (laughs). The American system will not allow this kind of project to be made, they are afraid of what is unknown. And so he loved the challenge, which he might never have had in his career. […] For an actor, it’s scary to have no script and to improvise. Not all actors are capable of doing that. It is necessary to have the talent certainly, but also a state of mind, to be player. There are actors who will be adamant: they will want a script, to learn a text, to be guided by a script. Others are more open to the unknown. For her part, Claire also accepted the challenge of acting opposite a James McAvoy who had no script.
Claire is an incredible actress. She’s got it down pat, as they say. I discovered that she and James McAvoy knew each other very well. I was delighted because I knew, from then on, that there would be a beautiful chemistry between them. One will believe in the couple, in the complicity between the two, even if they are separated. And I was served. Claire also informed me. She knew what James would refuse to do, or that in such and such a place, he would surprise me. She was a real help.
You’ve fleshed out this female role…
Yes. When I started the project of My Son, I certainly wanted to change the story a little bit but also to give more importance to the female role. I was also frustrated to have worked so little with Melanie, whose career I admire. What she does is crazy but we couldn’t do more. Now I had Claire Foy, I had to take advantage of that. We rewrote a script with Laura Irrmann in which the role of the mother is more important than in Mon Garçon, especially in the last act. This also creates a new dynamic in the film and I think the viewer will appreciate these changes. With My Son, I didn’t want to do a simple remake. It’s another version, another film.
What differences did you notice between Guillaume Canet’s and James McAvoy’s acting ?
The principle of the film, an actor without a script, allows us to experience his emotions directly. It is therefore very colored by the personality of the actor in question. Guillaume and James have two different personalities. They reacted differently because their temperaments are different. McAvoy brought a coldness, an energy, a violence, an emotion. Moreover, he was won over by emotion. He came in wanting to protect himself, not to fall into the trap, and he got caught. During a scene, I would not say which one, he burst into tears. We filmed that, for a long time. James came to me after the sequence and confided that he had never cried like that on film. He asked me how it was possible. I told him that it was because he had not asked himself about the camera.
Do you sometimes ask an actor to redo a scene, if the intensity does not suit you, for example ?
I never ask for more takes. The actors do. Because when they play they have found something and I want to see it. But I always consider the first take as the most important. On Mon Garçon and here too, I told them : « this film is like olive oil, it’s the first cold press that’s the most important ». It’s rare that we re-shoot because we don’t have the time. Time forces us to go to the essential. And that’s very good, it gives interesting things. It creates an energy, a speed, a tension that we find in the film.
Tell us about the environment in which you shot, which is central to the plot…
We shot for 8 days in the Highlands, on the west coast two hours’ drive from Glasgow. These are very spectacular places, which impress you, which impress the camera. They are also difficult places, where it rains a lot and we were served (laughs). These Anglo-Saxon landscapes brought an interesting dramatic side to the film. You’re looking for a child, and when you see the locations, you wonder how you’re going to find him in such a vast area.
(…) We spent a lot of time walking around, looking, feeling. And then, at one point, there is an obviousness. It’s like a casting session. We cast valleys, we cast very special places until we fell in love. (…) We filmed in places that had things to say, more than in the French version. I didn’t shoot nature like I did in Mon Garçon. There, I really enjoyed opening the game and the setting in which the story takes place, which is a real character here. These are places that host the story, the characters, and make them react. There is an interference between the chosen landscapes and the protagonists. I like these films.
Edmond Murray, divorced, has moved away from his ex-wife and 7-year-old son to pursue an international career. When the boy disappears, Murray rushes back to the Highlands. It soon becomes clear that the child has been kidnapped. At first, the parents give in to despair, but Murray soon shows himself willing to do anything to find his son. He embarks on a hunt that will force him to go to the very end of himself and to question all his convictions…
With My Son, the director Christian Carion succeeds in offering a new film. If the guideline and the narrative scheme remain more or less the same as in Mon Garçon, the author of Merry Christmas manages to surprise the viewer by sprinkling his story with some well-placed scenarist choices. He thus fleshes out his scenario intelligently but also his characters, including the role of the mother. The story is then reinforced with a new dynamic where the suspense is more breathtaking, more gripping.
Two other elements come to support the dramaturgical strength of the story : the masterful interpretation of James McAvoy and the oppressive environment of these Anglo-Saxon landscapes that My Son depicts.
The interpreter of Charles Xavier in the X-Men saga brings, indeed, a coldness, an unsuspected violence and increases the power and the distress of a father, distraught by the disappearance of his son. But the violence of James McAvoy is not gratuitous. It is progressive. This is the first quality of the two films (Mon Garçon and My Son), the crescendo of this inner anger until it becomes a real rage. The authenticity of this animosity lies above all in the acting and the improvisation. As Christian Carion describes it, the improvisation allows to detach itself from the form, to concentrate on the content and thus, on the pure emotion. James McAvoy, for his part, has positively known how to free himself from his shackles, to deliver a fury that takes us by storm.
And then, this environment where our heroes evolve. Christian Carion films these forests and valleys with such depth that they seem infinite. This infinity accentuates the anxiety and anguish of the viewer and the characters. It is impossible for us to put down any reference points and our eyes drown in these autumnal expanses. Where to look ? Where to start ?
Yes, My Son is a new film. For all these reasons, you will never be in the middle of a pale copy but of a new story. Don’t worry, Christian Carion doesn’t cheat you, on the contrary.
My Son will be released (in France) on November 3rd.